Studies uniformly show that riders and trainers often fail to see pain-related gait abnormalities, according to a new report by equine orthopedics specialist Dr. Sue Dyson.

Dyson, head of clinical orthopedics at the Centre for Equine Studies at Britain’s Animal Health Trust, discusses at-length how owners and trainers fall short in recognizing lameness.

In a recent issue of Applied Animal Behavior Science, Dyson writes, “There appears to be a perception among riders and trainers that horses can have ‘a lazy limb,’ whereas in reality most of those horses are lame.”

One of many studies within Dyson’s review found that out of 23 horses designated as sound by their owners, 14 displayed lameness. Another study reported that out of 57 show jumping and dressage horses, all sound according to their owners, only 14 were actually normal under all circumstances of performance.

Dyson understands that noticing minor lameness can be difficult, but says that there are plenty of markers that could be recognized with vigilance.

According to Dyson, many symptoms of lameness, including behavioral markers, such as folding ears back or riding with an open mouth, often go unnoticed. Dyson stresses the importance of paying attention to these behavioral cues.

To accurately assess lameness, a wide range of activity must be observed.

“There are many lamenesses that are only apparent in a ridden horse,” Dyson says.

Further, Dyson points out a lack of acknowledgement of how one cares for their horse can contribute to lameness, including whether a saddle is well-fit and the condition of the surface on which they ride.

“There is a huge spectrum of the aspirations of riders and what they wish to achieve with their horses,” says Dyson. “However, whatever the circumstances, optimization of the horse-saddle-rider interaction is crucial for both equine performance and equine welfare.”